Today we have a very special guest joining us on the Local Sports Search podcast, Kennedy Labatte, owner and CEO of Expressions Dance Academy in our very own Beamsville.
She's here with us, ready to discuss the past, present and future of her company, and furthermore, the benefits and challenges of running a dance company in the Niagara region.
Welcome again, Kennedy. Glad to have you here with us, so we like to always start off with a little icebreaker. Tell me, what is your favorite sports moments that you have ever experienced?
My favorite sports moment that I've ever experienced is being a part of Team Canada. So I was a part of Team Canada when I was ten and I was on there for a jazz duet with my cousin, and we traveled to Boston in the States and we actually won a gold medal for that duet. And then I had the chance to be on Team Canada again in 2010.
And I was a part of the TAP team for Team Canada and we traveled all the way to Germany and we competed in two routines and we won a gold and bronze in a silver.
Metal and they are my favorite experiences because we got to meet people from all around the world.
We got to meet all different types of dancers and we got to learn a little bit about everybody cultures.
So you've got a little success story behind you. That's that's nice to hear. Well, so tell us a little bit about you, you know, how did you get started?
So I started dancing when I was three, and then when I was around 8 years old I moved to Xpressions Dance Company in Beamsville because my cousins.
Dance there. So I danced there from the time I was eight until I was 18 years old, and then I started teaching there probably when I was 15 or so until the time I was 23.
I competed at Brock on the Brock dance team for five years, and then as I was graduating university, the old owner of the studio didn't want to run it anymore. And so she asked me if I would take over.
Since I had just graduated and I didn't know what else I was going to do, I thought, OK, I should give this a shot because it is my passion.
And that's kind of how I got started at the studio and now I've been owning it ever so.
Wow, that's the right place at the right time, yes. And I mean, like they say, you know, passion.
If you work as your passion, it doesn't feel like work, so that's amazing.
So what can you tell me what are the benefits from taking dance lessons?
The youth, so there's lots of benefits, so it's a movement based company. So everybody is moving all the time. So when you're moving, you're exercising and with that it comes good mental health so it's a good outlet for the youth. it's an art form, but it's also a sport.
So they're getting the art form, they're getting the outlet from that and then they're getting the movement and they're getting the activity from the sports side of it.
It's also a great way for kids to build confidence because they're getting the chance to perform in front of other people, whether it's just their classmates or whether they're going onstage, it's a great confidence builder for them, and also depending on what level of dance are taking.
If you're part of a competitive team, the kids have to learn organization, responsibility, discipline, and they have to learn how to have a really strong work ethic.
So it teaches kids a variety of skills when they're part of dance.
No, that's great to hear and I agree with you, getting standing up in front of a crowd and performing takes a lot of guts and takes a lot of courage to go up there, but what would you say are the type of dance classes your studio offers?
So we offer a lot of dance classes. So we offer classes in Jazz, tap, ballet, acro lyrical, contemporary, hip hop and musical theater. So we offer a lot of different styles and our ages range from 2 to adult, so mostly we have classes for ages 2 to 18 and then we have a few adult classes.
Now, I know you touched base on a lot of work ethic, So what would you say is the type of time commitment one would need if they wanted to sign up?
So it all depends on the program you're signing up for our recreational program is just a once a week program. Kids come for one hour once a week and they take a dance class in likely just one style and then they perform in our year end recital.
At the end of the year, we have a part time competitive program, so that is anywhere from two to six hours of training a week and they would learn most likely two to three competitive dances, and they would take those dances to competition in the springtime.
And then we have a full-time competitive program, and those dancers are training anywhere from 6 to 12 hours a week, and they are competing anywhere from, say 4 routines to 12 or 1516 routines at competition in May.
So it definitely seems like a huge commitment on their part, that's certain.
Yes, yeah. So if you're part of the competitive program, it's a huge time commitment.
Those kids are at the studio Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and some of them are also there on Saturdays.
Wow, that's almost five to six days a week.
You know you have a bunch of dance forms offering and then which form of dance would you say is the most popular and why?
So our most popular forms are Akron hip hop, we can see that based on registration, all of those classes are full. They are so full that we actually have to add 2 extra classes on Saturday, so that way we could get kids off the wait list and into class and I think they're the most popular because they're most the most flashy, so they have the most tricks.
And when people are watching, it looks the most impressive. When kids are in class, they're constantly moving, constantly learning and actually those classes almost take less concentration, say, to a ballet.
Ballet is very disciplined, you're at the bar, you need to be in the proper positionings where for Akron hip hop often you're really moving around.
After you're flipping around you're doing rolls, cartwheels, bridges, even some kids are doing backflips and things like that. So kids really like those styles I think because they're faster pace and very flashy, so when you're watching it and a recital or competition, kids go oh, I want to learn how to do that.
I want to learn how to do that.
And I think that makes sense at a young age, when you see something more flashy than something more disciplined, you always want to go to the flashy side. Well, let's talk about your Members and your team.
How many do you have? And what are the ages?
So we have about 180 kids enrolled right now. We're hoping to hit the 200 mark this year, so we'll see if we can get approximately 20 or so more kids enrolled before September 30 of those kids are on our competitive team, so we have a small competitive team compared to some dance studios, but for us we think it's a great size.
And our ages are two to 18 pretty much for those we have.
Probably we only have one adult class, so we probably have about 10 adults, but then the average age is probably around 10.
And I've heard that parents are really excited to see the end of your recital, and it's a big event for you.
So what goes into planning this space?
So there's lots of things that go into planning a recital. We actually start the planning process in the summer now for recital next summer in June.
So already we have booked a venue for next year, that's the first thing that we do is find a venue that's big enough for all of everybody to sit and watch the show, that is nice, has air conditioning and things like that.
And then we in January we pick a theme for the recital. Not everybody always has a theme, but we like to do a theme and then we pick songs based off of that theme.
Then we have to start working on the program, so that's something the parents would get when they go to recital and it shows them the show order and it has pictures in it and advertisements and things like that.
We also have to work on the show order, so we have to make sure that there's no dancers that are dancing back-to-back numbers, or even, say 2 numbers. In between, we like to have 4 numbers.
In between the dancers that are in a lot of numbers, so that way they're not getting too worn out and to run down we also try to make sure that our younger classes, who are ages 2, are not at the very end of the recital 'cause it's a long show for them to sit through and wait for themselves to dance.
We have to start ordering costumes, so we order costumes probably around February and then we have to create the dances.
So all the teachers have to start creating dances for all the recital routines, and we normally start that in January, in February, depending on a year we work on info sheets so those come out in April and that is an information sheet for parents that tells them their kids costume, what it looks like, what their hair needs to be, what tights they need and what shoes they need for their routines so those all get handed out.
We have to work on staffing for the day, which staff members are being runners, which staff members are in the babysitting room watching the kids, which staff members are in front of house directing people?
And then we work on décor, this year we had a big balloon arch with a red carpet and our logo so everybody could take pictures in front of it. And then closer to the day, we work on packing.
So we pack up all the cars with everything we need.
Any props, any music, getting our music organized in the right order on a system that can play at the venue so that way it's easy or not searching for music when the kids are standing on stage waiting for their song to start.
And then we work on her tutorials because a lot of our recreational parents, they're not used to the dance world. They don't necessarily know how to do dance her, as they would say.
So we create YouTube videos showing parents how to get their hair, their kids hair in a bun or ponytail or braid, whatever their hair needs to be. There's lots that goes behind planning a recital.
I mean you being at the top of the pecking order as the owner, how do you handle all this stress and responsibility? That did seem like 100% of very, very stressful planning for sure.
Yeah, it definitely is.
So I am a list maker, I like to make lists and I actually like to do it based on the months of the year. In January I'll have like say three things that need to get done in January and then February, three things that need to get done in February.
So I'm always looking at the list at the beginning of the month and saying, ok, this needs to be checked off this month so that way we're ready to go when the recital comes in June.
Right, and what would you say are like the biggest challenges you've seen?
So definitely by far the biggest challenge was the pandemic - that was a huge challenge for us.
We had only, well, I had only owned the studio for one year before the pandemic hit and that first year of course is a learning year because I didn't come from a business background.
So I was like all ramped up and ready to go for year #2 I like knew how to do everything. I learned how to do everything the first year and then the pandemic hit, so that was definitely the biggest challenge because we were shut down for the majority of two years almost and doing zoom classes so kids don't really like zoom classes.
Yeah, so that was a really, really hard challenge to keep up, keep clients, keep kids involved, try to make sure less kids are withdrawing every month, which is hard to do and they can't see you face to face.
So definitely getting the enrollment back after a pandemic and like bouncing back financially after that was a challenge.
So yeah, that's one of our biggest challenges and then definitely the other biggest challenge is just time constraints.
There's never enough time in the day for me to get everything done that I'm supposed to do because right now I'm the go to person, right?
I do everything. I'm teaching classes, I'm choreographing, I'm doing all the administrative work, I'm doing bookkeeping, payroll, emails, so for me I'm like, I just need more time in the day, need more time to get all this work done.
No, I I can see that. And I mean with all these challenges facing, I must say that I really need to tell you to be teaching dance over zoom is must be a very difficult task.
But the fact that you kept going is very commendable for sure, and I would want to ask you, is there a particular success story that you know you would like to share regarding one of your members or one of your team members.
I don't think we really have any yet just because we are only going into like our fifth year of me owning it.
So there hasn't really been a chance for a success story to happen. I would say just right now is keeping our team after the pandemic is probably a success story - it's just a little one.
It's not a huge success story, but we were able to keep almost every single one of our competitive members after the pandemic, which a lot of dance studios will say, they lost a lot of their competitive team because they just couldn't keep them engaged.
They couldn't keep them, they couldn't keep their love for dance going because they're in their houses on a compete. So I would say that's probably our biggest success story so far, but I'm sure we will have some in the future because we definitely have some talented dancers that are dancing with us.
Now that's great to hear and I'm sure as well that you will find a success story, but definitely surviving the pandemic is a success story in my opinion, because like we know several businesses shut down, several in fact.
So staying up is definitely a commendable thing to do.
And just one last question for you.
Any closing comments that you would like to mention for the people that are listening about dance expressions?
So I would say that it takes a lot more to run a dance studio than most people would think.
Like sometimes my kids will say to me, well, what do you do all day long? You don't do anything.
I'm like, Oh no I do everything all day long. The kids don't see it, right? They just see me when I'm in studio so they see me from 4:00 o'clock to 9:00 o'clock teaching dance and that's what they think I do right?
So it's funny, sometimes I tell them, Oh no, I'm on the computer all day. Like I'm on the computer from 11 till two and then I go to the studio from 4 till 9. A lot of the kids and even the parents don't fully understand that there's a lot of administration work that goes into owning a dance studio.
And owning a business, but I think it's really, it's really going good for us and we're really excited for our next season starting September 12th.
So we're really excited to get going. We're really enjoying the environment that our studio has turned into. A lot of our kids are friends with each other and they're rooting each other on all the time, so we as teachers who teach there, we love to see the kids every single day, just being friends with each other and rooting each other on and are there for each other.
It's like it's a family atmosphere, so we're really excited to see where this season takes us.
That's great to hear. Well, thank you so much for your time, Kennedy.
And like, you heard her, you know, dance builds perseverance, it builds teamwork, and it teaches kids work ethic.
So that's amazing, just like every other recreational sport out there.
And thank you everyone for listening.
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